Lee Pierson

"What is Consciousness For?"

444 posts in this topic

Not at all.

See this post (click here) where I give examples of Ayn Rand using "determinism" precisely that way including --

In terms of human knowledge, volition DOES come first.  Volition is an axiomatic concept that is implicit in ALL human knowledge -- including our knowledge that almost all of existence is deterministic.

Oops. I meant in the larger context of this thread---the idea that since man's volition is an evolutionary development degrees of volition are necessarily to be found in the other higher animals. That "necessarily" would have to be proved first, not assumed.

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You are probably thinking of this, from ITOE.

Yes. Thanks for the citation, Stephen.

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Anyone who claims that an entity is volitional bears the burden of proof.  That burden can be met with regard to human volition.

Yes, of course, as regards human volition. But obviously we can't introspect in regard to the consciousness of animals and of course we can't ask them. We can only observe their behavior.

Here's my point: if we study some bit of animal behavior and discover some of its causal components but not all, what do we conclude from that? Do we conclude that we just don't know enough and that with further research we will discover the full causal explanation? Well, what if no matter how hard we try we still can't explain all of it? Does that prove that animals have choice? Or, do we just continually say, we don't enough and in time we'll know.

What will you take as proof, then?

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Here's my point: if we study some bit of animal behavior and discover some of its causal components but not all, what do we conclude from that?

I would answer that the same as I would answer this: if we study some bit of inanimate matter behavior and discover some of its causal components but not all, what do we conclude from that?

If your "some bit" is meant as some small, teeny-weeny, itty-bitty, little bit of information, then we could not conclude too much. Hence I give much leeway to ancient man attributing all sorts of powers to rocks, trees, and the woolly mammoth. But if your "some bit" is meant to reflect modern times -- to encapsulate our huge, enormous, voluminous amount of scientific knowledge -- then since all of the evidence demonstrates non-volitional causal mechanisms, it would be absurd to conclude otherwise. Hence I give no leeway to modern man attributing volitional powers to rocks, trees, or the woolly mammoth.

As I said before, philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action; deterministic or volitional. Perceptual-level functioning is automatic; man's conceptual-level functioning is not. The very notion of volition is tied to the self-regulation of man's conceptual-level consciousness. To claim an animal fucntions of the perceptual-level, but exhibits "non-determinsitic choice," is to steal the concept of volition from its source.

I will repeat what you chose not answer before:

All of reality is an integrated whole, and establishing one truth or identifying one consequence, connects directly to others. Philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action -- deterministic or volitional -- with nothing in between. Some in the world, most notably Objectivists, have, thanks to the genius of Ayn Rand, a firm grasp of the nature of a volitional consciousness. We know the identity of volition and we understand the nature of its actions, and we realize the consequence of those actions in physical reality -- from cave drawings to the Empire State building. Those consequences are absent from non-volitional entities, and with good reason. In addition, every valid scientific investigation has revealed, on every depth of study, from the macro to the micro level, for inanimate matter and living entities other than man, mechanisms of operation that are causally explained by non-volitional behavior.

In light of all this, it is utterly arbitrary to put forth the notion of volition in other than man, and it is contradictory to reason to demand that the burden of proof lies equally with both sides.

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For some reason in responding to Stephen's last post, I couldn't get the block quote function to work, so I created my own somewhat lame separations.

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I give no leeway to modern man attributing volitional powers to rocks, trees, or the wooly mammoth

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We weren't discussing rocks and trees. So, why are you waving strawmen at me?

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As I said before, philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action; deterministic or volitional.

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And Lee is proposing the possibility of a third, providing reasons which I consider plausible and interesting. You can legitimately ask him for his evidence. But when I ask what evidence you will accept, you deny the possibility of evidence.

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Perceptual-level functioning is automatic

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This is a chronic equivocation in this discussion. The *content* of perception is automatic and we have no control over it. What is in our field of sight is in our field of sight and we can't make it go away. One assumes the same thing is true of animals. Lee is not denying that. He is merely pointing out that just as we can control *the direction* of our perception, i.e. what we attend to, perhaps animals have some similar control

_______________________________

I will repeat what you chose not answer before:

_______________________________

And I will repeat that you are still begging the question.

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As I said before, philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action; deterministic or volitional.

And Lee is proposing the possibility of a third, providing reasons which I consider plausible and interesting. You can legitimately ask him for his evidence. But when I ask what evidence you will accept, you deny the possibility of evidence.

Please provide a quote from me, in context, in which I make the claim you attribute to me, or withdraw that accusation.

Perceptual-level functioning is automatic; man's conceptual-level functioning is not.

This is a chronic equivocation in this discussion. The *content* of perception is automatic ...

You miss the point. The process of perception is automatic.

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Yes, of course, as regards human volition. But obviously we can't introspect in regard to the consciousness of animals and of course we can't ask them. We can only observe their behavior.

Here's my point: if we study some bit of animal behavior and discover some of its causal components but not all, what do we conclude from that? Do we conclude that we just don't know enough and that with further research we will discover the full causal explanation?

Yes.

Well, what if no matter how hard we try we still can't explain all of it? Does that prove that animals have choice?

Certainly not! To say that "We don't know what the cause is so we can't say it isn't volition" would be a logical fallacy: the Argument from Ignorance.

Or, do we just continually say, we don't enough and in time we'll know.  What will you take as proof, then?

The identification of a cause that reduces the claim to a tautology (to an identity).

In the case of volition, the cause is the conceptual faculty. We know that the faculty is volitional by direct, first-level introspection. We see that all (normal) men have a conceptual faculty by observing that they can form and use concepts. This all reduces to "Man has a volitional faculty."

If we observed that lower animals could form and use concepts, that would show volition in other animals. If we could show that there was another faculty besides concept-formation that was volitional and that lower animals possessed it, that would show it too.

To prove that other animals are volitional, we would have to make an unbroken causal chain back to direct observation.

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In the case of volition, the cause is the conceptual faculty.

That's a very interesting claim, Betsy.

Do you happen to have a quote(s) from AR where she says that? Or is this your own original view of it?

I think volition is a prerequisite for a conceptual faculty, but I don't know that I'd turn that around to say that the conceptual faculty *causes* volition.

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Please provide a quote from me, in context, in which I make the claim you attribute to me, or withdraw that accusation.

"Philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action -- deterministic or volitional -- with nothing in between....

In light of all this, it is utterly arbitrary to put forth the notion of volition in other than man, and it is contradictory to reason to demand that the burden of proof lies equally with both sides."

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You miss the point. The process of perception is automatic.

That doesn't change the fact that we can control where we direct our attention. I also think to some extent we can control the degree of our attention, e.g. focusing on something more intently.

Furthermore - and most importantly for this discussion - I don't see why that necessarily requires our conceptual faculty.

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Please provide a quote from me, in context, in which I make the claim you attribute to me, or withdraw that accusation.

"Philosophy ..."

Excuse me, Fred, I asked you to provide a quote, in context, in which I make the claim you attributed to me, namely your claim that "But when I ask what evidence you will accept, you deny the possibility of evidence."

Below is the full context of what I said. I succinctly state that all the evidence supports non-volitional causal mechanisms of animal behavior, with no contrary evidence, and therefore it is arbitrary to advance the notion of volition in animals. Please support your claim that I "deny the possibility of evidence," or withdraw your claim.

All of reality is an integrated whole, and establishing one truth or identifying one consequence, connects directly to others. Philosophy and science have discovered two fundamental and causally different modes of action -- deterministic or volitional -- with nothing in between. Some in the world, most notably Objectivists, have, thanks to the genius of Ayn Rand, a firm grasp of the nature of a volitional consciousness. We know the identity of volition and we understand the nature of its actions, and we realize the consequence of those actions in physical reality -- from cave drawings to the Empire State building. Those consequences are absent from non-volitional entities, and with good reason. In addition, every valid scientific investigation has revealed, on every depth of study, from the macro to the micro level, for inanimate matter and living entities other than man, mechanisms of operation that are causally explained by non-volitional behavior.

In light of all this, it is utterly arbitrary to put forth the notion of volition in other than man, and it is contradictory to reason to demand that the burden of proof lies equally with both sides.

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Do you happen to have a quote(s) from AR where she says that? Or is this your own original view of it?

Part of my argument is based on my approach to induction which is strongly implied by various written statements about causality by Ayn Rand.

I think volition is a prerequisite for a conceptual faculty, but I don't know that I'd turn that around to say that the conceptual faculty *causes* volition.

I would say that having a conceptual faculty is the cause of human volition. (Maybe there are other, as yet unknown, faculties that operate volitionally too, and maybe other creatures are conceptual, but I'll believe it when I see it.)

It is not that the the conceptual faculty causes volition, but that the conceptual faculty operates volitionally -- a directly, introspectively observable, 100% certain fact. The argument goes like this:

The conceptual faculty operates volitionally.

Man has a conceptual faculty.

Therefore, man is volitional (i.e., operates volitionally).

The cause here is having a conceptual faculty and that is what reduces "Man is volitional" to an identity. The SAME thing that makes him a man (having a conceptual faculty) is the same thing that makes him volitional (having a conceptual faculty).

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You miss the point. The process of perception is automatic.

That doesn't change the fact that we can control where we direct our attention.

That's because volition occurs only for a conceptual-level consciousness, not the automatic functioning of an animal's perceptual-level consciousness.

I also think to some extent we can control the degree of our attention, e.g. focusing on something more intently.

You seem to be trying to describe concentration, which presupposes an existing state of awareness. Concentration is the narrowing of awareness to give attention to some facts, to the exclusion of others. This too is regulated on the conceptual level.

Furthermore - and most importantly for this discussion - I don't see why that necessarily requires our conceptual faculty.

I point you to the Objectivist literature for discussion of the conceptual level, and to the scientific literature for the automatic mechanisms on the perceptual level.

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I think the discussion is getting off the point that we need to focus on. No one is disputing whether man is a volitional, conceptual being or whether the conceptual faculty is volitional. I think the main problem is that Lee has chosen to use the term "volition" for what he postulates animals are doing with their consciousness when they face alternatives. Perhaps Lee can at least choose a different word. Volition, in Objectivist terminology, is clearly tied to the conceptual faculty of man and not to any attribute of a different species. If Lee is really fully familiar with Objectivist literature, he should at least admit that. If he wants to maintain that there is some kind of "consciousness continuum" among man's and animal's consciousness in the area of choice or selective attention, a different concept and word is needed. Otherwise, he is clearly attempting to use the word in the manner of "trunk," an elephants long nostril or a big suitcase.

I have offered the concept of "perceptual choice" previously. Perhaps if "choice" is not the correct term, then "perceptual options" or "perceptual selectivity" would be better. There are some here who maintain that everything is deterministic except for man's volition. A rock rolling down a hill into a river is clearly a case where there is no volition or any kind of perception or awareness. I'm sure many of you have seen on Discovery channel or National Geographic a case where a hungry lion is searching for food. He comes across a herd of water buffalo and doesn't just start running after any particular buffalo, like a rock rolling down hill. Typically, the lion sits down and surveys the herd, looking for a lame buffalo or a youngster that would be easier to catch. Thus, the lion uses his consciousness, his awareness of the external world, to guide his actions in the selection of which particular buffalo to chase. The lion may even participate with a group of other lions in tracking down a buffalo. Once the lion spots a lame buffalo, he goes after it because he is hungry.

Clearly, the consciousness of the lion is used to allow him to act differently from the rock that has no consciousness. If the lion did not have consciousness, it would be unaware of the heard and simply die rather quickly. As I understand Lee's point, the action of the lion's consciousness in focusing and surveying the herd and selecting a particular buffalo is a matter of choice for the lion. Whereas Stephen maintains that these actions of the lion's consciousness are deterministic.

Now if either Stephen or Lee (or anyone else) can address this specific example and make your best points, I think I can finally make up my mind on this issue. Although I honestly don't see how the lion's actions can be classified as deterministic, I don't see that the lion is really using any specific choice (volition). His consciousness is doing exactly what it's supposed to do: guide the actions of the lion to enable it to sustain its life.

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Please provide a quote from me, in context, in which I make the claim you attribute to me, or withdraw that accusation.

You may not in so many words deny the possibility of evidence. But when you say:

"The very notion of volition is tied to the self-regulation of man's conceptual-level consciousness. To claim an animal fucntions of the perceptual-level, but exhibits "non-determinsitic choice," is to steal the concept of volition from its source."

isn't that tantamount to saying no evidence can be offered, because its status as evidence would be undermined by its being grounded in a "stolen concept"? I'm asking this a question, not as any kind of accusation.

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If we could show that there was another faculty besides concept-formation that was volitional and that lower animals possessed it, that would show it too.

What concepts do you use when you choose between vanilla and chocolate ice cream? And how is it any different from a cat choosing between two bowls of food, one with tuna, the other with chicken?

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I think the main problem is that Lee has chosen to use the term "volition" for what he postulates animals are doing with their consciousness when they face alternatives.  Perhaps Lee can at least choose a different word.  Volition, in Objectivist terminology, is clearly tied to the conceptual faculty of man and not to any attribute of a different species. 

I made that request myself quite a few postings back.

In addition to not accepting the burden of proof, Lee's arguments also suffer from another significant epistemological problem: the failure to define crucial terms like "consciousness" and "volition" and to use such terms consistently. When several of us have requested definitions or clarifications of the referents of these terms, responses like "That can't be defined" and "That isn't what I mean" have proven inadequate.

Good arguments need clearly defined terms and consistent usage. Without that, it is impossible know what you are talking about, think clearly, avoid logical fallacies like equivocation, communicate to others, or persuade them.

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You may not in so many words deny the possibility of evidence. But when you say:

"The very notion of volition is tied to the self-regulation of man's conceptual-level consciousness. To claim an animal fucntions of the perceptual-level, but exhibits "non-determinsitic choice," is to steal the concept of volition from its source."

isn't that tantamount to saying no evidence can be offered, because its status as evidence would be undermined by its being grounded in a "stolen concept"? I'm asking this a question, not as any kind of accusation.

Or when he says, "But if your "some bit" is meant to reflect modern times -- to encapsulate our huge, enormous, voluminous amount of scientific knowledge -- then since all of the evidence demonstrates non-volitional causal mechanisms, it would be absurd to conclude otherwise. Hence I give no leeway to modern man attributing volitional powers to rocks, trees, or the woolly mammoth."

However, I don't want to get into a "you said-no I didn't" debate. The question on the table is what evidence would you accept to support the possibility of choice in animal behavior? A related question is whether we should even be debating it, assuming it is entirely a scientific, not a philosophical question.

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What concepts do you use when you choose between vanilla and chocolate ice cream? And how is it any different from a cat choosing between two bowls of food, one with tuna, the other with chicken?

I generally make such choices "on automatic" just as the cat does. The difference is that I can consciously override "automatic" if I choose and there is no evidence that the cat can. Also the way I get my automatized preferences and value premises is mediated by my volitional, conceptual faculty and the cat's is not.

We can extract out of experience that which is essential if we choose to give something thought and care, but the cat can't. As Mark Twain opined "We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it - and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit on a hot stove lid again - and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore."

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I When several of us have requested definitions or clarifications of the referents of these terms, responses like "That can't be defined"

"Please provide a quote from me, in context, in which I make the claim you attribute to me, or withdraw that accusation."

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I generally make such choices "on automatic" just as the cat does.  The difference is that I can consciously override "automatic" if I choose and there is no evidence that the cat can. 

I guess you've never had the experience of a cat's "in or out" routine? :-)

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Now if either Stephen or Lee (or anyone else) can address this specific example and make your best points, I think I can finally make up my mind on this issue.  Although I honestly don't see how the lion's actions can be classified as deterministic, I don't see that the lion is really using any specific choice (volition).  His consciousness is doing exactly what it's supposed to do: guide the actions of the lion to enable it to sustain its life.

Paul, the automatic sensory and perceptual abilities of animals evolved over a long period of time, and these very complex mechanisms are Nature's solution for survival. If you want to understand these mechanisms, and if you do not want to first properly ground yourself in the detailed study of neurobiology, then at least start with something more simple than mammals. Try Perception and Motor Control in Birds: An Ecological Approach, M.N.O Davies & P.R. Green, Editors, Springer-Verlag, 1994.

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In addition to not accepting the burden of proof, Lee's arguments

This is wrong, also. I have not denied a burden of proof on volition in animals, or on our more radical hypothesis that volitional action is what consciousness of any kind is about. I have simply observed that a burden lies upon the animal determinist, as well. Withdraw your accusations!

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For anyone: Does a human, in the course of its development from embryo to newborn to communicating child, pass through a "continuum" of consciousness, that is, from one level to another, higher level?

I have wondered about this after observing my son, many years ago, and now my grandson and granddaughter.

In other words (which I may be completely misunderstanding), is this change an instance of "ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny" in some way? If so, does it provide any evidence for a "third way," a perceptual level of "choosing"?

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For anyone: Does a human, in the course of its development from embryo to newborn to communicating child, pass through a "continuum" of consciousness, that is, from one level to another, higher level?

I have wondered about this after observing my son, many years ago, and now my grandson and granddaughter.

In other words (which I may be completely misunderstanding), is this change an instance of "ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny" in some way? If so, does it provide any evidence for a "third way," a perceptual level of "choosing"?

An interesting question that, as far as I know, current developmental psychology is not conceptually equipped to answer. Maybe you could share some of your experiences with your young descendants.

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